Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Health Nut's Guide To Frugal Smoothies

Nothing screams “wellness” more than a cold, creamy smoothie. Packed with fruit and veggies, they are basically medicine in a glass, providing antioxidants, fiber, vitamins. 

They are also extremely versatile. Add some nut butter or avocado and call it a meal. Having a sweet tooth? Thrown in a handful of chocolate chips. Thirsty? Try a detox trifecta: cucumber, spinach, apple. But while making smoothies is a staple of your diet that can boost your general well-being, it can also cause major damage to your wallet. Here are some ways to save money, without cutting back on deliciousness. 

    1. Make the freezer your BFF. Even the tiniest freezer will do the job which is to store your bellowed fruit and vegetables. The best part? Almost anything can be refrigerated. All you need is a dozen of zip lock bags and …Pinterest. The platform is flooded with step-by-step tutorials on how to pack a month's worth of smoothies.

    2. Don't be afraid of those cheap, frozen fruit bags from the Dollar Store. Sometimes, frozen is better than fresh, nutritionists say. For only ten bucks, you can walk away with close to eight pounds of pineapple, berries, mango and peaches – each bag is a little under a pound.

    3. Your blender doesn't have to cost a fortune. For many of us, top-notch blenders like Vitamix are a luxury. Enter yard sales and thrifts stores like Salvation Army; if you're lucky you might find items that were never used. Using someone else's kitchen appliances grosses you out? Then go online to find plenty of options under $20.

    4. Avoid waste. It's tempting to eyeball ingredients, but you'll most likely go overboard. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and, voilĂ , you just made smoothies for a small army. Be warned: smoothies are not meatloaf and don't hold up in your fridge more than a couple of hours. We encourage you to stick to a recipe at first, to learn the right quantities. One clever way to save or even make your delicious concoctions ahead of time is by pouring them into ice cube trays. Your Future, Always-on-the-go Self will appreciate this for sure! Still in the dark about the whole process? Check out these awesome tips from The Kitchn.

    5. Hunt sales. Stock up. Repeat. Kale, spinach, green collards – think about them as the foundation of your smoothies. Unfortunately, they can get quite pricey. So what does the Health Scout Manual suggests doing? Hunt sales and start stockpiling. Once again, the freezer will come in hand. Just don't forget to give them a good wash.

    6. Play with your toppings so you don't get bored. We like to dress up smoothies with all sorts of super-seeds: flax, hemp, chia. Other budget-friendly ideas that will jazz up any bland smoothie are roasted peanuts, chocolate chips, shaved coconut plus baking extracts and flavorings. Hint: you can add pretty much anything that goes into cookie dough.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Soul mates, but clashing personalities

If my marriage would be run through the love algorithms used by and other popular dating websites, a blaring alarm would go off and the whole system would instantly crash. I wish it was an exaggeration.

Truth is, we are not, by any artificial intelligence standards - or human for that matter - a match made in heaven. What we really are is the mismatched pair of socks a five-year old would pull out from underneath his bed.

I am a creative soul; he’s a man of numbers. My coffee is an elaborate concoction of syrups and spices; his has nothing but a sprinkle of sugar.
Even choosing a Redbox movie triggers a huge debate. It’s the exact reason why our kitchen cabinets are covered in Post-its; to help us keep track whose turn it is to make date night plans. On the rare occasions we achieve a Vulcan mind meld; it’s usually over big topics, like finances.

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Our contrastive nature is even mentioned in the astrology books, who warn about perils of an Aries-Scorpio romantic alliance.
But here’s the thing: we like it just the way it is. Our close to ten years relationship was built on something more than identical Starbucks orders and similar cinematographic preferences.

Instead, we tirelessly fill each other’s sails. Which, I’ve discovered, sums up pretty much every “How to keep your marriage humming” article out there. It was he who gave me a pep talk and got me to open a blog in English. It was he who cheered me as I was battling anorexia. And while his gestures may reflect devotion, the concept behind them has a name open to interpretations: “self-expansion”

People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self. If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied.”, says Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey in his study of how individuals use a relationship for personal development.
Nitpickers would dismiss the idea as being selfish. And while they may not be entirely wrong, I take comfort in knowing that our couple is the glitch in the highly praised online love formula.

Finally, something my husband and I can both agree on.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pecha Kucha –A breakthrough for the creative voice of the masses

There’s a moment in the beginning of a PechaKucha Night when you wonder if you mistakenly end up at the wrong show. It happens quite often actually, because for a first-timer, it looks a lot like a TED Talk.
But comparing the two would be like explaining the differences between a red velvet cupcake and a cake pop. While equally delicious, they're nothing alike. On many levels though, PechaKucha (the Japanese word for “chatter”) steals the show.

First of all, there’s almost always booze and snacks involved, and a ticket costs only a few bucks. Second, the mic is handed to regular folks like you and me who want to share a particular story or idea. There’s only one genius rule designed to persuade the wondering human mind: 20 slides worth of presentations, each of them running on the screen for no more than 20 seconds.

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Above all, this no-fuss policy about speakers spurred this format’s popularity. At PechaKucha, an event originally launched in 2003 by Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, two Tokyo-based architects, nobody gets turned down.
There’s no obligation to prove yourself before coming here by owning a CEO position or being a best-seller author; the status of human being is enough to qualify you as “chatterer”. As the organizers put it “TED is top down, PechaKucha is bottom up!”

From local artists, to stay-at-home moms and even kindergartners in over 800 cities around the world, they all have proudly stepped onto the PechaKucha stages. According to the official website, presentations have been held in any space that can fit in more than a dozen of people. A few examples include homes, bars, churches or universities.

But not even the most welcoming audience can diminish the challenge every speaker faces cramming his or her ideas in a six minutes and 40 seconds time frame. So they can get really creative. Especially when their imagination is aroused by the prospect of an early Midwest spring.

That was the case of a recent PechaKucha event, which took place on a warmer-than-usual night of March, in a tiny Chicago bar. An assortment of snacks featuring pizza bites and beer sips helped build up enthusiasm among the crowd – a hodgepodge of middle-aged intellectuals and rambunctious millennials.

It was quite a struggle to spot a familiar face in the dimly-lighted room. Small candles placed onto the servers’ trays made them half-invisible, so that at a first glance they seemed like fireflies handing out beverages.

Close to 8 p.m., a raspy voice filled out the bar announcing the first orator of the evening. Paula Douglas, a Chicago professional singer, made a strong impression the second she grabbed the microphone and pointed towards the first photo of her slide show: a broken arm X-ray of her five-year old self.
The 19 pictures that followed revealed a bubbly personality: two stuffed animals (reining to this day in her grown-up bed); a travel in Argentina to learn about wine; playing at washboard, on a whim, while out to have some drinks with friends. Her speech was just as expansive as her long, brown curls. The message, straightforward.

You're not just one thing, so don't let your name or job define you”, she concluded as the last image, of a sunflower, was being displayed on a huge screen in the middle of the room.

With every orator, the night got more intriguing. PechaKucha’s “sky's the limit” approach to topics made for some random, surprising choices. Something that one would say only around close friends, and even then soften up by a couple of vodka shots.

Melissa Thornley, “a creative alchemist” in her own words, created a jaw-dropping presentation about her belly button. Watching her blow the lid off some personal stuff like an umbilical hernia and a miscarriage, while simultaneously laughing and crying was like drinking a sweet and sour Margarita on an empty stomach. Somehow, she managed to lead the public back to a happy spot, concluding that “we are all here to belly dance our way through life”. Besides raising their glasses, people rewarded her with unison “Hell-yeah”.

But if a PechaKucher’s success measures in standing ovations, than Jyl Bonaguro, a Chicago multi-media artist, should have received the biggest prize.

Jyl Bonaguro

Her speech could have been boring for a lot of reasons, yet she delivered a modern fairy tale. Her soft voice carried the public through an unexpected adventure. Despite crushing photo evidence, it was hard to believe any of it. How this petite, milky white-skinned woman with wavy hair could have possibly hitchhiked across France, in a quest to find the chateau where her theatre play’s heroine once lived? Her mission abounded in challenges. “When I finally got there, the castle was closed. Eventually, a door opened”, she told the public, bursting into laugh.

Turns out, she was onto something big. That voyage inspired the writing of Urania, a brilliant play revolving around Emilie du Chatelet, a French mathematician, physicist and author who lived in 17th century. 

Shortly after, the script benefited from a stage reading at Loyola University in Chicago, which only made Jyl more relentless in spreading the word about Emilie du Chatelet. A person of many hats herself, she used her presentation time to dust off the memory of a timeless role model for women everywhere.

And that’s the whole point of PechaKucha– to hook us up with ordinary people whose lives couldn't be more different than ours; people we may otherwise never had the willingness or guts to start a conversation. The magic happens somewhere between the fourth and the seventh speech, when participants become antsy to take over the stage. Because they suddenly get that each and one of us is a natural born storyteller.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Four ways moving to another country is like being born all over again

There are a couple of fundamental moments in our development that we don’t find out about until later in life. That’s only possible by scrolling through photo albums of first steps, first words, first bath etc. These firsts are our parents most treasured recollections, but have little to no significance to us.

Despite our best efforts to remember, our brains will bring to the surface nothing more than blurred, often distorted bits and pieces of information. Like the smell of your mom’s sweater as she carried you in her arms or a mental snapshot of dangling toys over your crib.

Some people though, get to have a born-again experience when they move to another country. I am one of them and can tell you right off the bat, that there’s a pretty good reason for not remembering how we surmounted the challenges of human growth. If we were to do it all over again, learning to walk and talk, we would feel vulnerable…self-conscious…Terrified.

That’s exactly what most people go through when they attempt to adjust to a new country. Here’s why:
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1. You have to learn not only the language, but its intonations and social meaning. When I moved to 
Chicago, I thought I had a good grasp of English. I could carry a conversation; that wasn't the problem. What made me cringe every time I opened my mouth was how rigid I sounded. Not much different than a baby spitting words. It took me a while until I figured out that speaking like an American requires relaxing the tongue and throat muscles, while dropping the jaw a bit. With that out of the way, I still had trouble choosing my words. Back home, when someone says “How are you” they expect to hear a detailed report of your day including what you had for breakfast. Here, as I quickly learned after having people avoid me, is this question is just a longer version of “Hi”.

2. You discover novelty in everyday life.couldn't tell you if I was happy or rather annoyed when my mom exposed me as a baby to the sun light.  But I sure knew the adrenaline rush I had when I had a cocktail on the 95th floor of the Hancock building in Chicago. Or how stunned my husband and I were to see the Cloud Gate, a bean-shaped mirror sculpture placed in Millenium Park. It was like this part of the world had just risen minutes before and was luring us in to discover its charm.
Retraining your taste buds can be a blessing in disguise. You probably don’t remember transitioning from purees to solid foods, but there is a big chance you cried for your pureed veggie concoctions for the first couple of days. My first morning here, I almost threw away our milk carton after having a small sip because it tasted like dirt to me. Gradually, I grew to love many American food staples I’d never even considered trying such as ribs and S’mores.

3. Get used to your new environment. The snow storms everyone warned me about weren't a deal breaker for moving to Chicago. Romania, my home country, goes through four seasons a year, so I was prepared to brave the hard weather. What really took me by surprise were the tornado-like storms. My first one caught me completely off guard. I was riding a CTA bus, when the sky suddenly got darker and violent rain drops began striking the bus roof, as if they were bullets. In the distance, a lightening show awaited us. When my station came, I ran through puddles like my life was at stake and made it home soaking wet and scared to death. While I couldn't say I got used to such weather events, I did learn to prepare accordingly.

4. Connect with people. Making buddies on the playground or in the daycare must feel like second-nature. How complicated can it be to babble your way into a group of toddlers, maybe even share a half-chewed rubber toy? But when I got my first job with an American company, I almost had a panic attack. My first day was the worst. I kept stammering through conversations, nervous, like a sheep facing a pack of wolves. My head was spinning. “Should I shake hands?” “Do they even do that?” “Don’t stare, don’t stare!” I survived and eventually, trust settled in between myself and my coworkers. They taught me how to connect better with Americans and I became willing to let go of judgments.